Spring chinook salmon have started their run through the Umpqua River. This can be an anxious time of year for anglers, environmentalists and biologists. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, last year’s fish count showed a significant decrease in the number of spring chinook migrating through the Winchester fish ladder, reminiscent of low numbers from 2005 to 2008.

However, river conditions may be conducive to a potentially strong spring chinook run. Although numbers of chinook were significantly stronger from 2009 through 2014 than last year’s count, local fishing guide Gary Lewis of Gary’s Guide Service estimates that this year’s spring chinook run would be “average to above average.” The level of the Umpqua River is much higher due to significantly more rainfall this past winter as compared to the previous two winters. Lewis noted that the increased rainfall is likely to positively impact the numbers in the Umpqua River this spring.  Ample rainfall and late high water make more of a given river system probable and possible for salmon to access.

Local fishing guide Gary Lewis of Gary’s Guide Service estimates that this year’s spring chinook run would be “average to above average.”

The strong correlation between adequate rainfall and snowpack also plays a key factor in a potentially good spring chinook salmon run by keeping watersheds flowing with cold water from snowmelt.  Lewis explained that a water temperature of 52 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit is the reliable temperature range in which chinook bite.

Runs can carry on into the summer in some regions.  Lewis detailed that cooler water later in the year is why areas such as Rock Creek often have a much longer season for spring chinook than many coastal regions.

ODFW shared a couple of interesting statistics about spring chinook passing through the Winchester Dam: since 1972, if a spring chinook count at the Winchester Dam is below 10,000, then the next two years (or more) will also have spring runs below 10,000. Also, when the annual fish count has increased to more than 10,000, the runs have stayed above 10,000 for at least three consecutive years.

Last year, 9,597 chinook salmon were counted.  The ODFW website disclaimer and the signage at the Winchester Dam explain:  “Due to budget and staffing cuts, the last 100 percent count was April 30, 2015.”  ODFW states that after April 30, 2015, their monitoring of fish at Winchester Dam is “at least 90 percent” accurate.  With that level of accuracy in mind, the number may just tilt above the oddly indicative 10,000 mark.

Hopefully this year, the salmon will break a statistical cycle of over 40 years.

Sardines, herring, salmon roe and shrimp comprise the best array of baits.  Spinners, spoons and plugs are common lure types to attract chinook.  Fishing in the spring requires heavier tackle than fall fishing due to the stronger river currents.

Although steelhead and coho salmon can often be caught with consistency close to the surface, this is not an advisable technique when fishing for chinook salmon.  Whether fishing from a boat or shore fishing, successful anglers use enough weight to get to the bottom of the main channel of the river.

For Oregon residents, an annual angling license costs $38.  To fish for salmon, a combined tag is a legal requirement, which costs an additional $35.  A combined tag allows anglers to fish for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon in Oregon.  The ODFW website has more information concerning Oregon chinook fishing.  The website for Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is also helpful for getting oriented with the basics of fishing for chinook salmon.

river slider
Chinook season re-opened March 1 in areas from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain with a bag limit of two salmon per day. Chinook season opens May 1 and runs through Sept. 7 for Humbug Mountain to the Oregon-California border with the same bag limit. All retained coho salmon must have a healed adipose fin clip.
Photo provided by Brandon Taylor The Mainstream

ODFW suggested locations:

1) Amacher County Park

2) Bunch Bar

3) Cleveland Rapids Park

4) Elkton Boat ramp

5) Colliding Rivers Boat Ramp

6) Hestness Park

7) Hutchinson State Park

8) Mac Brown Park

9) James Wood Boat Ramp

10) Narrows Wayside

11) Whistler’s Bend Park

12) Osprey Boat Ramp

13) River Forks Park

14) Scotts Creek Boat Ramp

15) Singleton Park

16) Sawyers Rapids RV Park

17) Swiftwater Recreation Area

18) Tyee Recreation Area

19) Umpqua Landing Boat Ramp

20) Yellow Creek Boat Ramp